It is rarely noted that much of the great vitality in the Church is its independent Catholic apostolates organizations dedicated to specific aspects of the Catholic faith and action. The number of these groups has mushroomed during the papacy of John Paul II.
Too often these groups work in total isolation from one another the Catholic Leadership Conference brings these leaders together with hope that the cross-fertilization of ideas will bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to organizations often working with sparse resources.
Membership in CLC is open to the head officers of Catholic apostolates with a national reach. Major Catholic philanthropists are also invited with the promise they will not be solicited in the course of the meeting, a promise that some of the participants, frankly, find it hard to keep.
The other rule of CLC is no criticism of Catholic bishops. This rule was instituted both out of respect for the bishops and to stop the blame game this is the age of the laity, or so it has been said, and CLC is trying to help focus attention on how these apostolates can help the Church move forward in its fundamental aims to evangelize and educate.
Each year CLC invites experts to address specific challenges and problems facing Catholic organizations. This year Prof. Robert Destro of the Columbia School of Law at the Catholic University of America will lead a panel discussing IRS guidelines for Catholic political action. Dr. John Haas of the National Catholic Bioethics Center will lead a discussion of stem cell research and human cloning. Curtis Martin, the director of the college ministry FOCUS, will provide suggestions on how to reach out to young adults for the Catholic faith.
The keynote addresses will be given by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR; Prof. John DiIulio of the University of Pennsylvania, who just stepped down as director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives; and Dr. Pat Fagan of the Heritage Foundation.
Over the years CLC has born some real fruit. In 1999, the CLC issued a statement signed by 130 Catholic leaders encouraging the adoption of Ex Corde Ecclesiae; copies were sent to every bishop and every Catholic college or university president. The following year, in advance of the presidential election, CLC issued a statement, again signed by its membership, asking the administration to restrict funding of stem cell research to adult stem cells. The group will consider issuing a joint statement on human cloning in the coming year.
The network of friendships and mutual support that has sprung up from these annual meetings is vital. Every year CLC members say that these relationships have proved the most helpful outcome of the meetings.
It remains to be seen how much the events of September 11th will impact the resources of Catholic apostolates. Given the uncertain nature of the coming months, the opportunities afforded by this year’s meeting are magnified. If Catholic apostolates are to continue to thrive they must find ways of utilizing each other’s unique strengths.